My favorite part of teaching elementary school was recess duty. The kids were masters at finding fun ways to entertain themselves, whether that meant getting a pick-up soccer game going or playing Godzilla and destroying their finely crafted cities in the sandbox.
As winter came, I thought my students would have a hard time finding ways to play during recess. The weather was cold and the snow mercilessly snuck its way into boots and snow pants. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, though! If anything, my students had more fun playing outside in winter than they did during summer. They loved to build snow people and made armies of snow angels, even if a little water got in their socks.
I’m a big advocate for living life outside. Spending time outdoors during any season is beneficial, but this rings doubly true during wintertime. Most of us spend our winter days cooped up inside, hiding from the brisk, icy weather, but there are so many benefits to taking a few minutes to step outside and enjoy the sun’s warmth on your face.
Here are five ways spending winter outdoors benefits kids’ wellbeing and mental health.
1. Playing in the snow gets your kids exercising
Kids need exercise like skiers need snow. Children spend so much time cooped up inside during the winter that getting exercise outdoors is an absolute necessity. The CDC recommends that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, no matter if it comes from a snowball fight or a sledding trip.
According to the NHS, regular exercise has a ton of benefits for children, including:
- improved fitness
- increased concentration
- improved academic scores
- a stronger heart, bones, and healthier muscles
- healthy growth and development
- improved self-esteem
- improved posture and balance
- lower stress
- a better night’s sleep
Of course, not all kids are going to jump at the chance to exercise—I know that I didn’t back in the day. If this is the case with your kiddo, try making winter exercise fun by turning it into a game or competition! Appeal to their interests; if your younger kids are Pokemon fans, teach them to play Pokemon tag. The person that is “it” is the Pokemon trainer, and the kids being chased are the ice-type Pokemon that the trainer is trying to capture.
Of course, not all kids are Pokemon fans. Check out this article from Troomi for some more tips on helping your children love exercise! Then, click here to learn more about Troomi’s safe smartphones for kids. Our top-of-the-line smartphones eliminate addicting social media and encourage your kiddos to get outside and enjoy their exercise.
2. The winter sun improves mental health
For many of us, the coming of winter means feeling the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons. Most people experience seasonal depression during the bleak winter months, largely because we spend so much time inside hidden away from the sun.
It might be no surprise, but one of the best remedies for seasonal depression is to get outside and soak up some Vitamin D. WebMD states that “30 minutes of exercise in the morning sun may be all that is needed to keep the winter blues at bay.”
Kids and teens aren’t safe from the winter woes either, so if your children are super tired or seem more listless than usual, encourage them to spend some time in the sunshine!
If you live in a place where the sun doesn’t shine regularly (like Iceland, or Utah when it’s smoggy), stepping into the sun may not be a regular option. As such, most doctors recommend a form of light therapy using a light box—a device that produces bright artificial light that simulates the sun’s UV rays. They are also known as “happy lights.” I use one pretty regularly in the winter and can say from first hand experience that they are a game changer for my mood. You can find some on Amazon, click here to check it out!
3. Spending time outdoors inspires an appreciation for nature
Winter vistas are simply unrivaled. A light dusting of snow near a frozen river and the smell of ancient pines have inspired poets and artists throughout the generations. Now it’s time to help your kids develop the same appreciation for the natural world!
We depend on nature for so much, from fresh air to materials for clothes, and even our hydration. Instilling a love of nature early in life helps kids understand why it’s so important to protect our natural world. It’s no secret that the earth is in a climate crisis. Spending wintertime outdoors is a great way to get your kids interested in the environment and start them thinking about ways they can protect it.
4. Fresh air cleans out lungs and helps you sleep better
When you spend so much time hiding from the winter chill, it’s inevitable that the air inside your house is going to get a little stale. Indoor pollutants like dust and dirt are harmful when we breathe them in, and dust accumulates so quickly on your TV and other pieces of tech.
Going outside for a breath of fresh air is the perfect way to detox dust and other indoor pollutants from your system. Make sure to open a window every now and then to let that sweet, sweet outdoor air into your house.
Exposure to cold fresh air is pretty beneficial for your physical health as well. It helps reduce inflammation of sore muscles and quickens your metabolism.
Cold air also helps you sleep better! As you prepare for bed, your body recognizes that it is time to sleep and in turn your body temperature naturally drops. Colder temperatures help your body recognize that it’s time to go to bed. A short walk through your neighborhood before going to bed is a great way to fight insomnia—and it helps you wind down without your phone.
5. Playing with snow cultivates creativity
When I was a kid, my sisters and I loved to play house in the fresh fallen snow. We would create a floorplan with our footprints and craft furniture out of the powder. Some of my favorite memories involve playing in the snow with friends and using our imaginations to invent some pretty entertaining games.
Kids have amazing imaginations and playing in the snow is a magical way for them to flex that creative muscle. Creative expression is so important for children: it encourages creative problem-solving, encourages personal growth, and celebrates what makes each child unique. Snow, ice, slush, and other winter materials can be transformed in so many ways. The only limit is what your child can dream up.